Wild Minds: The Artists and Rivalries That Inspired the Golden Age of Animation

Atlantic Monthly. Dec. 2020. 432p. ISBN 9780802129383. $28. FILM
While animation is often considered a children’s medium, its early days were filled with social commentary, sexuality, satire, and countless creative and financial battles. The “golden age” that Mitenbuler (BourbonEmpire) refers to in his title spans from 1911 to the late 1960s. As the popularity of animated short and feature films exploded, so did the fates of the artists and their creations. Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland enchanted audiences, but John Randolph Bray patented McCay’s methods and developed a successful animation studio. Otto Messmer tirelessly worked on Felix the Cat cartoons, while studio head Pat Sullivan toured the world taking credit. Eventually, the popularity and increasingly adult content of some cartoons led to the Hays code, which created strict rules about content in films of any kind, but this new censorship actually gave many cartoons a more universal appeal. The author explores dozens of artists, but the through line is the rivalry between early innovator Max Fleischer, who produced huge hits with Betty Boop, Popeye, and Superman, yet endured almost constant financial and creative battles, and Walt Disney, 20 years younger but the eventual master of the medium, both artistically and financially.
VERDICT An entertaining and revealing look into the dawn of a revolutionary art form.
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